And so at lunchtime I was outside making preparations for the winter. The last of the annuals - by now fading fast - got pulled up, and the perennials moved back from the balcony railings to nestle up to the warmth of the walls of the house. A little bit of water just to stop them drying out completely, and on went the fleece. All that's left now are the bulbs - many of which are already poking through. I've replanted the daffs and tulips from last year, to see if they'll do anything, and I also have several containers of mystery bulbs - bulbs I found in my London garden in the summer and brought back with me. They're all coming through well, but so far I've still not been able to recognise what they are. Some with long grass like stems may be snowflakes - but we'll have to wait and see.
And of course there's this year's new collection. I've said before that you virtually have to take out a mortgage to buy bulbs from the garden centres in Milan, and so every year I wait for the Fiera del Artigianato - a trade fair held in early December. It's hard to translate Artigianato. It means crafts - but has a much wider sense than the English word. The fair this year covered everything from what you would expect from the words crafts, to food, to furniture, to clothes, to solar panels and even boats. It's huge, and is divided into geographical areas. The Italian stands are grouped by regions, and the others by continents and then individual countries. So I spent three hours wandering around the world, drooled over some antique ceramics from China, had dinner in India, saw some incredible drumming and bagpipe playing in Scotland, bought some cheese in Switzerland (made with carrots, absolutely scrummy), and ended up in Holland where I have an annual date with a Dutch bulb stand.
And here's what I bought this year - from left to right : allium, fritillaria, freesia, dwarf iris, and lily of the valley. And one other bulb. But oh, was that a mistake ....
It intrigued me when I saw it on the stand. It had an interesting name and a strange flower which reminded me of something I'd heard of blooming at Kew Gardens, a bloom that was so rare it made the news. But no, obviously it couldn't it couldn't possibly be that .... So I thought I'd get one and check on the internet later to see exactly what it was. And oh, what a mistake I've made. this is something that has absolutely no place on a balcony. I'm going to be loathed and reviled by not only my family but also the neighbours. Really, I should throw it straight down the waste chute.
But of course I can't. So I've promised myself I'll grow it, let the flower open, take a photo and then cut it off and throw it out. Quickly. What is it and why does it terrify me so? Over to you. As it's Christmas, I'm giving away a little prize - five Balcony Garden greetings cards (similar to the one below) with some of the best photos from the last few years. First person to identify it and explain and why it's such a big mistake wins.